Spirited, at times heated, the debate in the federal riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard was never dull.
The event, organized by Harvey Borsuk, filled the auditorium at Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds on Oct. 7. Moderator and Riverdale principal Roger Rampersad enforced the rules of decorum with elegance and humour while two senior Riverdale students timed the candidates’ allowed one-minute responses to the second.
Three questions were asked in each of three categories – the economy, foreign policy/immigration/security and social issues. The nine questions were selected from dozens of questions submitted in advance by the public.
NDP incumbent Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, a social worker and teacher, was polite but firm. Liberal Party candidate Frank Baylis, a businessman and entrepreneur, was a force behind a friendly smile and smoothest with his delivery. Conservative Party candidate Valérie Assouline, a lawyer and entrepreneur, was combative from the opening moments, maintained her delivery at high-intensity for the duration and, at moments, appeared to respond without measuring her words.
One moment of high drama that elicited audible intakes of breath from the audience happened during the immigration/security portion of the debate when Assouline shot back at Baylis that Prime Minister Harper’s priority was to “protect Canadians on Canadian soil and Christians all over the world.”
It was clearly a rush-to-speak moment, but Baylis jumped on it nonetheless, saying it was the Liberal Party’s priority to protect “people” in vulnerable situations all over the world.
Assouline also spoke out passionately on the question of the niqab’s place in Canada saying, “My Canadian values tell me there is no place for the niqab in Canada.”
Assouline, whose family immigrated to Canada from Morocco, is a fierce defender of women’s rights and said that the presence of the niqab sent the wrong message in the fight for equal rights for women and contradicted everything she is teaching her young daughters.
Both Blanchette-Lamothe and Baylis spoke of inclusion as opposed to exclusion.
Blanchette-Lamothe was at her strongest when addressing Canada’s immigration policies. She was the official opposition’s critic for Citizenship and Immigration and worked closely with families in crisis.
“Our system can work better. It is cruel to make family members here wait years to be reunited with their loved ones.”
And when Assouline supported the government’s involvement in a military coalition fighting ISIS overseas, Blanchette-Lamothe said: “In the past, Canada was admired around the world for its peacekeeping. ISIS must be addressed, but not by dropping bombs. We have to look at what we want to represent as a country. We need a prime minister who makes courageous decisions.”
The most intense sparring took place between Baylis and Assouline as they defended the track records of their respective parties.
Assouline accused the Liberal Party of meddling in the province’s business, making promises it couldn’t keep and plunging the country into enormous debt.
Baylis said the money spent on the record-breaking, protracted federal campaign could have financed the building a long-awaited bridge in Île-Bizard.
Assouline shot back saying she didn’t believe the Liberals would ever build a bridge in Île-Bizard.
When Assouline spoke proudly of the Conservative government’s balanced budget, Baylis said, “Balanced budget? I call it creative accounting.”
When the questions turned to what the candidates would do to combat poverty and unemployment in the riding, the struggling residents of the Cloverdale Village social-housing cooperative in Pierrefonds became a flashpoint for the two.
Assouline said that Cloverdale Village was dear to her heart and that one of her priorities for the riding was to twin the unemployed in the West Island with West Island businesses. She challenged Baylis to say how many Cloverdale residents he employed at Baylis Medical – his medical-supply business.
He shot back, “Cloverdale is dear to my heart, too. When I was a boy, I lived there.”
He went on to say that the money spent on the lengthy campaign could have easily covered next year’s expenses for the cooperative. An entente between the cooperative and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation – which translated into $960,000 in funding a year – expired this month. Around one-third of the tenants at Cloverdale received rent subsidies as a result of the entente with the CMHC.